Pilot dashboard enables precision fire prevention in communities
By Rebecca Kong and Len GarisFeatures
A new online dashboard being tested in B.C. fire departments is transforming fire data and other statistics into an interactive, site-specific roadmap for reducing fire injury and death.
Developed by Statistics Canada, in partnership with the British Columbia Office of the Fire Commissioner, the Community Fire Risk Reduction Dashboard creates maps identifying areas of low, medium and high risk of residential fires within a community, based on population characteristics, fire incident rates, injuries, deaths and smoke alarm status.
The project is timely, in light of the alarming rise in fire deaths across the country during the pandemic. In B.C., for example, the Office of the Fire Commissioner’s annual report showed a 119 per cent increase over the last two reporting years, including 59 fire-related deaths and 180 fire injuries in 2021. Notably, people over age 65 and homes without working smoke alarms were over-represented.
“When you see the numbers trending the wrong way, it’s important to take action by seeking out new tools and approaches,” said British Columbia Fire Commissioner Brian Godlonton. “This project uses data already being collected to help fire departments accurately identify the risk levels of their neighbourhoods so they can deploy their fire prevention and safety programs where they are needed most. I have no doubt the insights gained will help save lives.”
Started in July 2022 at fire departments in Surrey, Coquitlam and Port Alberni, the pilot aims to collect feedback and refine the system, before being launched across B.C. next year, and potentially other parts of Canada after that.
The project grew out of Statistics Canada’s work – with the support of the Canadian Council of Fire Marshals and Fire Commissioners – to develop a National Fire Information Database (NFID) incorporating structure fire incidents, injuries and deaths from across Canada for use in fire prevention and response.
With B.C. being the first province to report its 2016 to 2021 fire data to Statistics Canada, its data was used for the pilot dashboard project. Statistics Canada has been in contact with other provinces and territories to discuss their participation.
The vision is to make the dashboard tool available to all Canadian provinces and territories, with continual updates based on new NFID fire data and other information collected by Statistics Canada.
“We are pleased to collaborate with the British Columbia Office of the Fire Commissioner, leveraging data to save lives,” said Anil Arora, Chief Statistician of Canada, Statistics Canada. “Through the expansion of these types of tools, the integration of other types of data and working with other communities, we can use the power of data to bring even greater value to all Canadians.”
From Data to Results
Considerable research exists to identify the key risk factors for fires. Published literature indicates that most fire-related deaths and injuries are in the home and elated to cooking, smoker’s materials and the lack of a working smoke alarm. Additionally, neighbourhoods with the highest fire risk tend to have more residents under age six, residents aged 65 and over, short-term occupants (people who move frequently), unemployed people, and lone-parent families. Indigenous individuals and communities are also vulnerable.
Research also points to successful interventions, particularly targeting vulnerable populations and neighbourhoods. One success story is Surrey, B.C.’s award-winning HomeSafe program, based on international studies showing the positive impact of firefighter home visits focused on safety and working smoke alarms. HomeSafe uses fire and demographic data to identify fire-risk hotspots and populations and then treats those areas with home visits by firefighters and volunteers offering fire prevention education and smoke alarm giveaways. Implemented in 2008, HomeSafe achieved a 70 per cent reduction in fire rates and earned a Community Health and Safety Program Excellence Award in 2013 from the International City/County Management Association.
The Community Fire Risk Reduction Dashboard dovetails findings from the vast body of fire research with data such as NFID fire rate statistics, Census data, the Canadian Index of Multiple Deprivation (indicators of vulnerability, such as economic status) and other sources to create a risk score and colour-coded visual representation of the fire risk in particular neighbourhoods.
In addition to providing the overall risk with separate layers for deaths or casualties, risk levels can be viewed separately based on fire statistics or population characteristics, or viewed as a composite to obtain a complete picture of an area’s fire risk.
Coloured maps provide a quick visual assessment of areas with low, medium and high levels of risk, and users may also click on a particular area to review the data supporting its risk score – for example, a large population of seniors or high number of fires in homes without working smoke alarms.
Using the dashboard tools, fire departments can gain a deeper understanding about which residents and neighbourhoods are most at risk – and just as importantly, why – allowing them to customize their prevention activities to specific population groups or neighbourhoods.
The project is the latest example of how data can be leveraged to inform public safety decision-making and services. In much the same way that the police services rely on data collection and analysis to better predict, prevent and fight crime, the fire risk dashboard would put a valuable tool in the hands of fire departments seeking to both increase the impact of their prevention activities and strategically manage resources.
“This project demonstrates the importance of collecting data as we continue to seek opportunities to advance the fire service and deploy our resources for maximum effect,” Godlonton noted. “Innovative approaches like the Community Fire Risk Reduction Dashboard show great promise in not only preventing fires, but more importantly, preventing injuries and saving lives.”
Over time, the dashboard may be scaled up to serve other provinces and territories, with the possibility of integrating additional information to assist with other disaster risk reduction efforts, such as wildfires and floods.
Canadian fire services across Canada are also invited to view demonstration video and the try the test version of the dashboard and provide their feedback :
Community Fire Risk Reduction:
Rebecca Kong is the Assistant Director for the Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics, Statistics Canada. Rebecca has a B.A. honours degree in Law with a concentration in Criminology from Carleton University. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Len Garis is a senior advisor for the Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics at Statistics Canada, Fire Chief (ret) for the City of Surrey, B.C., associate scientist emeritus with the B.C. Injury Research and Prevention Unit, and a member of the Affiliated Research Faculty at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. Contact him at Lwgaris@outlook.com.
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